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Dec 20, 2006 at 03:22pm IST

Rats are all they have left to eat

Johannesburg: Dinner for 12-year-old Beatrice and many others in Zimbabwe, once dubbed Southern Africa’s bread basket, is now a rat-infested nation of beggars.

Beatrice digs fields around her family's makeshift shack for rats, which seem like a blessing, and takes her catch home where her mother Elizabeth immediately puts it on the grill. Elizabeth says three stones supporting a wood fire is just enough food to feed her starving family of six.

"Look what we've been reduced to eating? How can my children eat mice in a country that used to export food? This is a tragedy,” Elizabeth says.

The fields that were once flourishing with crops are now barren, and experts say a modern-day catastrophe is unfolding.

But it may not be so hard to imagine when you consider that the man responsible, who's led this country since independence in 1980, is now- at 82 years old, and is still ruling with an iron fist.

And if he has his way, Robert Mugabe is determined to be president for life with little standing in his way.

“Life has become extremely difficult in Zimbabwe and a lot of depression, people are very much depressed and they can no longer think idealistically. They're looking all the time for food, where do I get my next meal,” says Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube.

Until such time, Zimbabwe seems set to remain as a nation of fuel queues and food lines of shacks and squatters, of rats and rat eaters.

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